Qatar has the highest percentage of women in the workforce out of all the Gulf states, according to a new survey.
A total of 51 percent of women in Qatar over the age of 15 years old were found to be working, compared to less than 30 percent in Saudi Arabia and Oman, the study Power Women in Arabia: Shaping the Path for Regional Gender Parity found.
Compiled by management consultants AT Kearney and B20 Employment Taskforce, the report looked at trends and figures for women in education and employment, and the opportunities for female entrepreneurs in the region.
The survey found that across the GCC, there are more women in work and education now than two decades ago.
Additionally, opportunities for businesswomen are improving, although at a slower rate than in other parts of the world.
In the 20 years from 1993 to 2013, the report found that the number of women working in Qatar has risen by 19 percent.
However, the growth is slower than in other GCC countries such as the UAE, which saw a 63 percent rise in women’s participation in the workforce over the same period.
Urging the public and private sector to do more to improve gender equality, the report said:
“A.T. Kearney’s study confirms the great progress achieved so far in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) regarding gender equality in the workplace. However, there is still much to be done. When looking at women in leadership positions, we still face an enormous gap vis-à-vis other parts of the world.
It added: “Advancement toward gender parity, beyond incentivizing women to pursue higher education or increasing female participation in the workforce, needs to be about ensuring women reach the leadership positions they deserve.”
Barriers to work
Qatar’s female workforce numbers are likely enhanced by the large percentage of expats living here.
While the AT Kearney report doesn’t give a breakdown of nationals and non-nationals, figures from the Qatari government have found nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of expat women work, compared to just over one third (36 percent) of Qatari women.
This is according to the latest figures, from the second quarter of 2015, provided by the Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics in its regular Labor Force Survey.
The report stated that the main obstacles for women when it comes to entering the workforce include “cultural reasons” (by 44 percent of women) and “lack of support.”
Still, an increasing number of women in the region want to have a career – 31 percent said they were interested in working or needed to work and 27 percent said they wanted to improve their skills and capabilities.
Qatar also has the highest percentage of women (88 percent) pursuing higher education in the Gulf.
However, the report also found that startups in Qatar remain male-dominated.
Around one in six men in Qatar currently own their own business, while just 6 percent of women do.
However, many residents voiced entrepreneurial aspirations, with some 40 percent of men and 32 percent of women saying they wanted to start their own company – way ahead of those in any of the other Gulf states.
For example, in Kuwait only 11 percent of men and 4 percent of women said they’d be interested, while in the UAE it was 8 percent of men and 4 percent of women who did so.
Qatar Roudha Center for entrepreneurship and innovation was flagged in the report as a good example in the region of developing a “robust ecosystem for female entrepreneurs.”
The report’s authors call on policy makers to improve the framework for women by putting in place supportive systems such as suitable maternity leave and state child care as they exist in Nordic countries.
It also suggested private companies consider adopting more flexible working hours and ensuring they have strong role models in the organization.
And it said individuals should challenge the culture and mindset of those at work and at home to enable greater progress.
Meanwhile, Qatar is the best destination internationally for working women who want to boost their salary and those who want to save money, according to a separate global survey.
The HSBC Expat Insider Survey 2015 found that 57 percent of the 10,000 women from 25 countries who took part said that Qatar was the best place to work in order to earn more than in their home country.
Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the women surveyed picked Qatar as being the best place to put away more of their income than the would be able to back home, the report authors said in a statement this week.
Hong Kong came out overall as the best place for women to advance their career (63 percent ), followed by China (59 percent) then Singapore (56 percent).